Goestenkors comes home to Duke
Returning to Duke for the first time since she walked away from the Blue Devils in 2007,Gail Goestenkors felt the Cameron Indoor Stadium magic again Sunday.
It felt familiar and welcomed.
Goestenkors, Duke’s women’s basketball coach for 15 successful seasons, attended the Blue Devils’ 80-56 win over Boston College on Sunday as the school celebrated the 2003 Final Four team.
Goestenkors coached those Blue Devils, one of four Duke teams she led to the Final Four before she took over the Texas program in 2007. After resigning at Texas following five seasons last spring, she finally got a chance to be a Blue Devil again – for a day.
The crowd of 5,244 gave her a loud, extended ovation as she was introduced during a halftime ceremony.
“This has been an incredible experience,” the 49-year-old Goestenkors said. “It feels like coming home. Everybody here has been so warm and so welcoming. I can’t tell you how much it means to be to be out on the floor again to see my former players. It’s amazing. Such great memories.”
This season, Goestenkors is out of coaching for the first time in her adult life. She still lives in the Austin, Texas, area. But her break from coaching, which she said she needed when left Texas last March, is allowing her time for travel and visiting with family.
“It’s just nice to take a break, take a deep breath and enjoy the people that have meant a lot to me that I really haven’t had a chance to spend time with,” Goestenkors said.
A Michigan native who played her college basketball at Saginaw State, Goestenkors said she visited her home state for five weeks.
“The longest I had been home since I was 18 was for like four days,” Goestenkors said. “So it was really nice to spend time with my family. It was wonderful.”
Goestenkors was the ACC’s coach of the year seven times in her Duke tenure, including her final season in 2006-07. Her last 10 Duke teams made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, including the four Final Fours and NCAA championship game appearances in 1998 and 2006.
At Texas, she compiled a 102-64 record but never reached the same level of postseason success. Her teams were annual NCAA Tournament participants. But she never led the Longhorns past the second round.
Last year, she cited fatigue when resigning and walking away from the final two years of a contract that paid her around $1 million a year.
“It was a great learning experience, a growing experience,” Goestenkors said of her five seasons at Texas. “At Duke, that was my first head coaching job. I was 29. We kind of grew up together. This program and myself. That was an unbelievable experience. At Texas, I feel like I learned a great deal. It was totally different than Duke in a lot of ways. Duke is small and private. Texas is so big. So it was a different experience but I feel like I grew.”
Even though things didn’t work out as well as she had hoped at Texas, she has no second thoughts about leaving Duke.
“I never have regrets,” she said. “I will never live like that. Every experience is a learning experience. I enjoy and love my time at Duke. This will always feel like home to me. Always. Because of the people and the fans and everybody that works here. But I grew in my time at Texas.”
As for getting back into coaching, Goestenkors is keeping her options open while enjoying her current status.
“I don’t know,” Goestenkors said. “I’m so enjoying this year that I don’t want to be thinking in the future. I want to stay in the present. I’m enjoying my present right now.”